Thursday, January 27, 2011

Being there, but not quite

I received an email early on Australia Day from Alan Rauch, editor of Configurations: Journal for the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts in the USA, who asked whether I would review an article submitted to them for publication. Of course I was happy to spend a couple of hours reading and making measured comments, which I did. It was almost, but not quite a pyjama day. Already it was 1.30 pm and I hadn't been outside, so I took a short walk and then spent the rest of the day pottering about at home.
I reflected a little on what it meant to be Australian and then, thinking about the email correspondence I'd had that morning I began to view myself in the way that Kris Hemensley (Melbourne writer) had always spoken about himself in the mid-eighties, as being 'a person of the world'. Patriotism aside, I think that the Internet can certainly make us feel that we are part of something larger than ourselves or the country in which we reside. In this sense then, we become people of the world - all connected in cyberspace described by William Gibson in 1984 as a 'consensual hallucination'. So what was this hallucination?
Twice in one day I'd been drawn to the USA - I'd already watched President Barack Obama's State of the Union address and his call for Americans to 'reinvent themselves' - a reinvention that would include supporting technological advancement. Then last night I was watching Photographers in the War Zone (UK) a documentary on SBS2 about seven photojournalists' experiences of war - from conflict in Vietnam to the current battles in Iraq. The documentary revealed how extensively photo-journalists put their own lives on the line when they photograph the impact of pain and loss of life of all those involved in warfare.
Interestingly enough, one of these brave individuals bemoaned the fact that anyone with a mobile phone or digital camera who managed to take a picture of sudden conflict, accident, terrorist attack or better still (according to newspapers and glossy magazines, who pay large amounts for such photos) celebrities; were suddenly thought of as 'journalists', when in fact the everyday photo-journalists who risk their lives on the front line were paid very little for their photographs, which were not always published because the editors wanted to 'protect' the public from viewing emotional content, such as body viscera.
I thought again how nice it was to think about oneself as being a person of the world, very easy when you are sitting safely at your computer, touching the world and the world touching you in the most disembodied sense and the being-thereness of technology that works to create closeness as well as distance. Perhaps in some ways we are like Chance (Peter Sellers) in the film Being There (Hal Ashby,1979) who 'likes to watch' but can't quite get involved and only knows about the world through its technological mediation.

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